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The Cleon Memorial Library For discussion of Traveller fiction, both official and fan-written. Fan-written drafts are explicitly welcome.

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  #71  
Old February 27th, 2018, 09:42 AM
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Maybe it was because Vash was right. There was nothing Aston could do to change what had happened a few days back when they had the pirate on the ropes. Absolutely nothing. Vash had been silent for the most part during jump, occasionally offering a game of cards and giving that ever so woeful glance that canines and wolves were famous for back on Earth, all the while Kyle and Bree kept their distancej when the two were in the same room. The galley had become awfully silent when Aston was in the vicinity.

Towards the end of the hop things seemed to loosen up, and the interpersonal friction Aston had generated seemed to dissipate. But tension built up again in that last twenty-four hour stretch before exiting jump space. What would they find? What would happen? The truth was no one knew, but the other truth was there was little chance, quite literally astronomically low odds.

“Vash.” Aston finally broke his silence, “Suit up and get in the turret.”

“Expecting trouble?” Vash’s tone brightened but was also deadly serious about the probability of having to fight a violently damaged foe.

Aston subtly shook his head, “I’m pretty sure that ship’s long gone, but I don’t want to be caught off guard.”

“You got it.” Vash couldn’t help but let his tail twitch back and forth as he delved into the ship’s locker to suit up.

Aston grabbed his own vaccsuit before heading forward to see Kyle already suited up and sitting in the copilot’s seat reaching for an overhead switch.

“Captain, we’re five minutes to exit. I’ve got the turret powering up for Vash.”

“Good job.” Aston replied, not wanting to repeat his admonition of not being a military unit. In this case, they actually were a paramilitary unit, though unwillingly—all part of the service.

Aston strapped himself into the pilot’s seat, latched his helmet onto his suit, and saw the data feed on his helmet’s faceplate HUD come to life.

“Exiting now.” Kyle anxiously announced, and Aston had to admit that even though they would probably find nothing, he too was on edge.

The shimmering tunnel and Milky Way both faded to pure star studded black dominated by a massive earth toned sphere of a gas giant nearly swallowing the view outside the scout ship. Swirls of brown, red, yellow, white and blue were distant pools of mist still hundreds of miles away in spite of the all encompassing view. Aston had to admit, no matter how many times he saw one of these things, their sheer size and colorfulness still awed him.

Aston checked all the screens on the dash as well as the threat warning indicators, waiting for the unexpected to show up on some monitor, but, as he guessed, there was nothing.

“We got to scan all that, sir?” Kyle’s phrase was more of a statement than a question, and Aston understood the point all too well.

Still, Aston hesitated before replying, “Well, the sooner you start, the less we’ll have to scan later on.”

A few moments passed before Kyle said anything again, “Captain, I’m just getting static. Lots of magnetism, lots of electrical storms. Huge in fact. I’ve never seen anything like that!”

Aston ignored the incredulity in Kyle’s tone. “Anything metal with a pirate flag?”

“Oh, sorry, sir.”

Again, Aston let it go. The kid was probably a navy washout before joining the local sector patrol to satiate his lust for space. The Imperial Navy wouldn’t just take anyone, but at the same time that meant that the scouts sometimes got the “hand me downs” when it came to personnel to bolster naval forces.

“Ah,” Kyle continued, “yeahhh…. Not showing anything mechanical, or nothing that fits a starship drive signature.”

“No?’ Aston was all business. “Well, we’ll make a few more sweeps, then make a run for some fuel before RTBing.”

“Ar Tee what, sir?”

“Return to base.” Aston explained before deciding to pressurize the ship. Moments later he heard the familiar hush of air molecules being forced back into the ship’s living spaced.

“You’re pressurizing the ship, sir?”

“Nothing gets by you, Kyle.” Aston meant it as a light hearted jest, but regretted it the moment he said it figuring young Kyle might take it as a personal jab. It was, but meant to be more fun than sting. No, he decided, he would not ask for Kyle to be assigned to him. A nice enough kid, but still a kid, and more of a high school graduate than a college washout. Either way, Aston didn’t think him scout material. You didn’t have to be a genius (though it helped), but you also needed some common sense.

But Kyle continued to look at Aston and the ship’s dash. Aston took off his helmet, saw Kyle still looking at him through his vacc suit helmet. “Look, we’re not going to find anything here and now. If we come up on her—a one in a million chance—then we’ll go back to battle stations. Until then, we’re going back to normal operations.” Aston hesitated still seeing puzzlement on Kyle’s face, “But, you can stay suited up if you like.” Aston added sheepishly, then; “Just make sure to recharge your life support when we’re back in port.”

“Uh, yes, sir.”

Again, not the navy, but again, Aston didn’t care at this point.

Scout ship’s had navigational scanners, just like other commercial and private vessels. They weren’t a survey ship, much less a mainline combat unit. To Aston it meant the fleet captain didn’t think the chances of a bandit trying to escape via a micro-jump were slim and none. And on this occasion he was right.

And maybe that was another reason for Aston’s temper flare-up a week back before entering jump. He had already forgotten the Fleet Captain’s name. Halave or something? Some good Vilani name that didn’t speak of a proud alien naval tradition, but someone who came from an old, slow, conservative society who really should have been packing meat or running a store instead of commanding an anti-piracy task force.

It wasn’t the name, but the attitude of the man that the name bespoke of. Aston prided himself on not having any kind of bigoted feelings, unlike so many Terrans who touted themselves as “Solomani”, or even worse the highly martial and near berserker like Swordys, who were both cohesive and scattered in their thinking all at once. Aston didn’t hate nor otherwise dislike Vilani people, but Vash was right. Plugging that pirate with a few more times with a barrage would have saved him and everyone else the effort of a wild goose chase.

“Truth be told I don’t want to be in this thing.” Reffering to his vaccsuit after several moments of silence with Kyle, as he continued to check the ship’s sensor suite.

“Is that regulation, captain?”

“If there’s no one around, it is.” Aston replied, seeing what Kyle was all about. Not an intelligent young man, but quick, and testing. The kind that liked to rise through the ranks by finding fault with others. Not really sociopath material, but opportunistic and mercenary in a social sort of way.

Aston chagrinned. Maybe he was reading too much into the man, but that was his first impression. Aston put his thoughts back to the scan, and pulled an old navigator’s trick of trying to extend the range of the otherwise civvie scanner suite. Tapping power into a directional scan and fooling the software that it was an emergency situation boosted the output and definition of the scan.

As expected, nothing again. Aston heard Kyle rattle off a few more figures, but ignored him. All the same he tossed a question as if it was a response; “Did you get those evasives laid in?”

“Oh, uh, sorry, sir.”

Aston didn’t say anything, but took active navigational control and put the ship on a scim route, letting the engines continued to accelerate well beyond hyper sonic before cutting them. It would still be a few days before they entered the upper ionosphere.

During that time Aston and Vash seemed to get along like before, and Aston couldn’t help but notice that Vash wagged his tail when he entered. Probably because Aston admitted to Vash that the Vargr was right, and didn’t need to explain about human hierarchy to Vash as he knew it all too well. Vargr, like their wolf counterparts, knew when to be impetuous, even if it did lead to mistakes more often than not.

Days later the huge multicolored sphere was now a massive atmosphere colored arc that reached across the view from the cockpit that was nearly flat due to its size. Aston kept the throttles at low thrust, giving the ship just enough nudge to keep from completely being slowed by the molecules striking the hull and slowing her.

Once the scout ship had settled below transonic Aston let the scoops partially open. Outside the Florian’s windscreen was a deep indigo that shared a common soft white atmospheric horizon with the multicolored ammonia and sulphurous clouds below.

Again, beautiful, and again rarely anyone but those who travelled the stars got to see such sites. This is what Aston had signed up for, and it almost seemed to make up for the battle a week back.

Almost.

The threat warning indicator beeped to life accompanied by a flashing red warning light on the dash. Someone tracking them? Here?

Aston grabbed the yoke and slammed it left while pulling back hard. Aston could hear the crew swearing as pots, pans and anything that wasn’t tied down in the galley, including the crew, went sprawling as the scout ship carved a super-speed horizontal arc across the jovian sky.
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  #72  
Old February 27th, 2018, 11:48 AM
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A crimson laser cut across the scout ship’s prow, missing the windscreen by mere meters. Aston felt his body jerk forward as the ship’s gravity kicked in. He reached for the ship’s intercom; “Vash! Get on the turret!”

Aston eased off on the turn seeing the ship’s stress/strain indicator peak into the red as he levelled the scout ship relative to the planet’s horizon and swept the area with scanning beams. There it was. Aston linked it to fire control, but didn’t check the class. It was either the type-T or it wasn’t.

On the plus side one beam lanced out at the ship. On the other hand it didn’t mean a whole lot other than the attacker was either new at piracy, down on his luck, both, or was grasping at straws. Another bright crimson beam, frayed by the atmosphere, flashed and cut an arc above the ship.

Aston pushed the yoke forward and crashed it left one more. The scout ship wasn’t a fighter by any means, but at these speeds treating it like one was a must. Aston pulled back on the yoke and the scout ship arced upwards while Aston turned the yoke to the right putting the ship into a twirl as it ascended once more.

Aston shoved the throttles all the way forward to help the scout ship fight the jovian’s pull. Kyle lumbered in wearing his vacc suit, and clumsily climbed into the copilot’s seat.

That’s when the sharp electrical snap of the scout ship’s twin lasers erupted, several pulses flashing like a high tech machinegun to some target that only Vash and Aston could see via electronic eyes.

Aston put the scout ship into a level ascent, but kept the throttles full wide open. Vash cut loose with the ship’s twin laser again. Within a few moments the familiar shape of a gull winged shape four-hundred ton vessel sporting the Jolly Roger on its tail fins appeared against the near black upper ionosphere.

“That’s him.” Vash growled over the intercom.

“He’s ascending, captain!” Kyle nearly shouted.

“I got him.” Vash growled, then let loose with another stream of lethal energized subatomic particles that slashed at the pirate as it made another attempt to escape after a failed attack.

Vash was right, they had had a week in jump to fix whatever they could, and fixed it they had, or what was within their capability. Good help was hard to find, and only the worst or the most uncaring and most ruthless turned to piracy. The social mix didn’t blend with work ethics, and the even now the as pirate made another attempt to get away she was paying for it in spades.

Aston curled the scout ship behind her bulk, feeling the heat of her sputtering aft drives backing the nose and cockpit. Just beyond the infrequent flashing and struggling glow Aston could the pirate’s one remaining turret traversing towards them. One barrel of her triple beam turret was glowing, the others a void ashen black, even through the occasional high speed faint white cloud that flashed across both ships as they continued to ascend at high mach.

Aston saw Vash work the pirate’s drive section with a voraciousness that could only come from a Vargr gunner, tearing and slashing at the pirates already scarred hull with hot metal burning beams.

Again, the pirate glowed blue.

“Not again.” Aston was bitter, and doubly bitter that he hadn’t followed his inner Vargr by listening to Vash a week back and hitting the scum bag one more time.

But just the pirate was about to jump, she fired. A searing red beam lanced the scout ship, barely missing the starboard nacelle and cutting across her spine and into her engineering section.

Explosive decompression was only an instant, and was stopped cold by the Florian’s inner seal system of expandible foam that immediately hardened when a breach took place. Given their traverseing through atmosphere, even at these high altitutde, Aston was surprised it worked. But even as the emergency system took hold to repair the wounded bird, the ship began to lose power.

The scout ship’s speed decreased until she reached the apex of an ascending arc, only to begin to nose down. But as she did so Aston and Kyle could see the pirate vessel literally fall apart. A combination of Vash’s fire, damage from the engagement a week back, and her own misuse was too much to bear, and the ship was rendered asunder. Winggs, goose neck bridge section, chunks of her main frame, and even her drives, simply disassociated from another until the once venerable type-T cum pirate simply fell apart—scattered amongst the jovian winds.

“I’ve got no power.” Vash was all business. No snarling, no growls, no edge to his tone, just astonishment. “Bree, what’s happening with the power?”

But there was no response from Vash.

“Bree. Bree? What’s going on back there?”

Aston didn’t dare leave the controls, “Kyle, get aft with Vash and find out what’s happening with Bree. Get us some power!”

Kyle got up and left the bridge with Aston trying to nurse the ship’s fading electonrics. Kyle tried every dial, every switch, every touch sensitive control, but to no avail. He switched over to battery power to keep the avionics running as the scout ship’s internal lights dimmed. No big loss as there was plenty of sunlight streaming through the cockpit and cabin windows, but solving the lighting problem didn’t restore power.

If nothing else, they weren’t under fire anymore.

“Richard, it’s bad back here.” It was Vash.

“What’s happened with Bree.” Aston flatly stated, bracing himself for the worst.

“She’s still breathing, but she’s got a nasty cut on her head. I’m guessing the self sealer knocked against the ship’s bulkhead. Kyle, pull her into the common area, and get back to the cockpit. I’ll deal with this. Richard?”

“I’m still listening.”

“She had us dialed into combat mode. It looks like when they his us with their last shot that there was power jumping … some short circuits.”

Just what Aston didn’t want to hear. “Tell me you’re joking. Vash, the engines have cut out. I’ve got us on battery power right now, but we can’t fly, and right now we’re gliding downwards. Soon we’ll be in free fall, and there’s no where to land.”

Vash was silent. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Do you want Kyle back there?”

“Not unless he’s a rated engineer. If he can get Bree back on her feet, then that’s the best thing he can do.”

Aston knew that Kyle was neither a medic nor engineer. He was strictly cockpit material. “Uh, negative on both. Kyle, see if you can give some smelling salts to Bree, then get back up here.”

“Yes sir!”

Aston leaned back in the chair and gathered his wits before going back to working on restoring power. He double, triple, quadrupled, quintuple checked every system.

“Power plant restored.” Came Vash.

Aston relaxed, he’d thank Vash later, and merely delighted in the stronger glow of the dash and switches before grabbing the familiar throttle control and pushing it forward. But nothing happened. Ship’s power restored and the engines weren’t responding.

“Vash.”

“Yeah?”

“What’s happened with the engines?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we’ve got lights, navigational controls, computers, sensors, scanners and everything else, but no engine power.”

“What? How can that be?”

Aston half shook his head, “You’re the engineer, man. You tell me.”

“I hate to remind you, but I’m not a man.”

Aston hesistated to utter a dog joke, “Either way, we’re still up the creek until you get the engines fired up again.”

“Everything’s green back here.” Vash replied.

Aston went through a sixth check, but nothing. Power, and they were still in free fall. “Kyle, get back up here.”

Outside the scout ship speared downwards through layers of feather white stratospheric clouds. Inside, Aston pulled back on the throttle, and went through the engine restart sequence. In the old days of jet engines ignition with an oxidizer was needed to get an engine going. But this was the day of starship engines, where hot subatomic nuclei melded with gravity-negating technology to push starships of various sizes and configurations through the inky black of space.

And no jet engine this, but a marvel of high energy engineering, a practical extension of the physic’s study that went by the same name.

Something was not connected, or had burned out. But if Vash had restored power to the primary circuitry that should have been shorted by the laser blast, then it had to be something else. It had to be a connection issue. But if it was, then that meant the laser had cut into the couplings in the wing roots.

Aston checked the ship’s damage control, but nothing was showing up on the systems’ display. Everything was green. So how come the ship’s engines were dead?

Aston checked the external pressure. From negative pressure to fractional atmosphere and increasing. Aston sighed worriedly, and went through the checklist again.
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  #73  
Old February 27th, 2018, 01:26 PM
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The sky was now blue. It had lost its deep dark cosmic luster, and now looked like any conventional sky of any world, save for the huge mountainous dark colored cloud formations stained red, yellow, blue and black. A veritable rainbow stained the clouds that reached into a hazy infinity. Canyons of clouds that were the size entire worlds loomed low underneath the scout ship as it continued its nose dive.

Aston pitched the nose downward, trying to generate lift over the body, and then pulled back ever so gradually. The scout ship levelled out momentarily, buying precious moments, but the engines still wouldn’t light.

“Vash, I’m thinking there’s a connection issue somewhere. I got attitude control, but nothing more. We can see and scan, but we can’t run.”

“I know, don’t you think I know that?” Vash replied.

Kyle entered the cockpit.

“Where’s Bree? How is she?” Aston quickly asked.

“She’s on the sofa in the common area with an ice pack over her head. I think the patch blast hit her pretty hard.

Aston ignored Kyle’s assessment. Vash was in engineering, which was good enough for him. A wolf who knew circuits and power he trusted, not someone who was a new assignment. For that matter he wasn’t sure he trusted Kyle’s skill, or rather he trusted his lack of it.

“Help go through restart procedure. Punch up that check list, and sound me off.” Aston’s tone was commanding but calm. A crisis engineer.

Kyle began with set one, and then went through preflight. Aston repeated the step and executed it, all the way to thrust. But nothing.

“Okay, let’s try again.”

Again Kyle read off each step meticulously, and each time Aston verbally repeated the step before executing it. Then something dawned on him, this planets pull was three times or more greater than a standard world, which mean terminal velocity, in theory, could be greater. A constant acceleration downwards that was on the order of twenty-seven meters per second every second might overcome the thickness of molecules keeping most vessels aloft.

“Again.” Aston repeated, his frustration becoming palpable. “Vash!”

“I’m working on it! But everything’s green! I can’t find anything!”

Aston angrily scrunched his lips and sighed through his nose. He looked at the relative altimeter and distance to world readout. Then correlated that with the external pressure gauge.

“One more time, from the top. Set one.”

“Set one, captain.” And Kyle went through the restart procedure again. And again speed and pressure built up, but no engines. And the clouds that loomed low in the distance were steadily creeping up.

“Captain, we’re above one atmosphere now. Pressure is rising.”

Aston didn’t reply. “Set one.”

“Set one, captain.” And after several minutes the same result.

Aston couldn’t take it anymore and got up from the controls after setting the autopilot, and stormed aft. In the SRO chamber stood Vash with several panels opened with wired guts and circuits dangling about. The ship shuddered as it speared rode through turbulence.

“What in the world?” Aston exclaimed, “What’re you doing?!”

“I’m trying to get us some power!” Vash shot back, “I got everything back up and running…”

“.. but the engines!” Vash vented his anger and frustration, “I know! For the thousandth time, I know!”

“We’ll why don’t we have any thrust?!”

Vash shook his head as he clipped his hand held scanner to one set of wires and then another, shaking his head each time.

“Why are you checking the control circuits?” Aston modulated his tone, not wanting another explosive episode.

“That pirate sliced into the aft computer banks. The computer responded by rewiring operation critical controls through the forward unaffected banks, including power, but it’s dormant for some reason, and I can’t figure out why!”

“How about bashing on it again?”

“Is that more Terran humor? I’m surprised you’re not joking about my keen sense of smell.” Vash hadn’t lost his levity, which was a good sign. To Aston it meant he was closing in on the problem.

Aston stood there like an idiot, trying to tap his own limited engineering training about system analysis.

The galley and main area lights blacked out. “Oh no, what now?”

“No, that’s good.” Vash explained, “The computer’s trying to revive control banks through unpowered circuits by sending a feed.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I’m using this!” Vash held up a pocket radio with a couple of wires attached to a switch that lead to the ship’s computer.

“What the heck?!”

“Don’t laugh! I’ve done it before.”

“What the heck kind of engineering is this?!”

“I said don’t laugh!”

“I’m not laughing, I’m yelling! You’re hinging our lives on a teenagers plaything?”

“I’m the engineer, you’re the pilot. Shut up and let me do my job! I’m tricking the AI by sending pulses through native circuits so it keeps reviving unit after unit! Now shut up and get back to the controls! This dang thing is my baby. I’ll give her the juice, you make her fly! Now get out!”

Aston was shocked and cautiously stepped back, before heading back to the cockpit. He took several steps and saw Breanna coming around with her eyes half open. “How you doing?”

She shook her head, “I’ll be okay.”

Aston stared at her. She didn’t appear to be playing the wounded flower, as so many females had in the past. Still, “The sooner you’re up and running, the sooner Vash has a second set of hands the sooner our chances of not dying increase.”

“Not dying?”

“Engines are out, and we’re diving into the planet’s atmosphere.”

“Planet’s atmosphere? But we’re orbiting a gas giant.”

“No, not orbiting, diving into, and you need to take something for the headache and get aft ASAP.” Aston let it go at that and went back forward into the cockpit.

“Captain, I think I have an idea.” Kyle was nervous, borderline scared if not in fact frightened out of his wits but trying to control his emotions.

“I’m open to it whatever it is.” Aston was all business.

“I’ve noticed the ship’s computer is trying to feel out what’s up and running and what isn’t.”

“That’s Vash trying to trick out the AI.”

“Well, what if we tease it some to get it to look at the controls.”

“Yeah, okay, big deal, that doesn’t get us engine power.”

“Unless it figured we needed engine pow….”

“Do it! Shut up and do it!” Aston put the scout ship set back at position one, then put it into position final and shoved the the throttles into zone five.

By now the ship’s forward momentum had stopped, and now the ship was falling flat straight down with the pressure gauge climbing steadily. The multicolored clouds were now rising like canyon walls on either side of the Florian. Masses of billows so numerous they looked like microminiature balls from thousands of miles distant, and again stretched into murky cloud banks that curved and snaked away as far as the eye could see.

Below massive electrical discharges as lightening the thickness of entire starships that stretched for hundreds of miles arced between said massive formations. The flashed through the windows filling the starship with brief moments of strobing blue-white lightening illumination.

“It’s working, captain.” Kyle said.

Aston watched the ship crawl through its routine, checking and rechecking circuits, and comparing operational parameters with what was required.

“Pressure’s rising, captain.”

Again, Aston didn’t reply, but watched the ship do it’s thing. How he wished he could yell at it like he at Vash or Vash at him, and give it that extra emotional kick that living creatures needed every so often to get things done. But all he could so was sit, be patient, and wait, and hope that the jovian atmosphere didn’t crush the finest Florian League engineers had to offer before the ship’s computer decided it was time to recheck the engines and breath life into them.

But the canyon walls continued to rise, and lightening continued to flash, and the clouds grew darker and blacker.

“Decrease interior pressure. Don’t depressurize, just let out enough air to keep us at norm.” Aston ordered, and Kyle followed suit.

“It’s not working, sir. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” Kyle stated as he carried out Aston’s orders. “We’re not going to make it.” Sadness crept into Kyle’s voice.

Aston could hear and feel the pressure build up on the hull.

Then, like divine intervention, the engines thundered to life. Lateral relative velocity steadily climbed and Aston and Kyle both hauled back on the control stick sending the scout ship soaring skyward, riding twin plumes of blue white triple diamond flames.

Aston couldn’t help but laugh, and Kyle followed suit seeing that he had been given permission to do so by his superior.

Aston and Kyle sat at the controls until they had reached lower orbit. One of the local moons was covered in ammonia and water snow, that would do for a fuel supply. It was only then, once settled on a world that was below freezing, standing there with a shovel in his hand staring up at the black star studded background with the gas giant looming in the distance, that Aston let himself relax.

Pirates vanquished. Tanks full. Ship out of danger. And a black skyline with a blazing single sun and the Milky Way sprawled out across the heavens. What pirates had survived the initial catastrophe, if any, were dead by now if they hadn’t froze to death when the type T fell apart.

But even though it was mere hours ago, it seemed like it was a month ago. Why that was, Aston didn’t know. But he stared up at the stars, and was thankful to be alive.
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  #74  
Old March 9th, 2018, 04:22 AM
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Mobile ABM and HEW batteries, balance struts splayed out on the tarmacadam’s reinforced surface, belched hyper-velocity missiles and energy into the skies above Efate as a combination of Zhodani HE rounds and orbital lasers battered and tore at the tarmac of the starport complex. Chunks of rubble and clouds of dust spewed and rose from impacts and burning destruction etched from the heavens.

Captain Richard Aston ran across the tarmac towards the The Small Ray, a defanged type-S that had seen better days, but was up to specifications in spite of the torrent of destruction raining down around the port and city beyond.

Dust and smoke billowed and enshrouded the city into a dull brown and dull white cloudy haze that rose from the spires and skyscrapers like an unformed ghost, while in sections flames raged and ravaged property of all sorts.

Several low yield shells stitched a line across the gate terminal between Aston and his hastily assembled platoon consisting of mostly raw recruits thrown into uniform and given a weapon, with a couple of early twenty-somethings to act as mentors. The entire structure collapses, and the shockwave knocked Aston and his troop backwards sprawling across that tarmacadan.

Soon after black capsules landed in the wake of smoke and debris. Doors flopped downwards and hit the starport surface with a metal clang that could be heard amongst the tumult of shells, lasers, missiles and now small arms fire. Small arms fire that included Zhodani laser assault rifles—a familiar and much hated sound all at once.

Daniels went down, Scudder, Houghton, McClellan, and Sanders were hit, ablative plates reacted to some laser strikes with explosive vaporization and smoky particles protecting their wearers, while others crumpled in anguish.

Aston painfully crawled to the huge mound of rubble separating him from his type-S, and unslung the ACR that some sergeant had thrown his way when the alert sounded. He reached for the sheath attached to the belt also given to him during the alert, felt the hilt of the long eighteen inch steel blade, pulled it out, and snapped it into the holder underneath the ACR’s barrel.

That’s when he noticed that his platoon of young men had followed in a crawl, and were now doing as he had done, affixing bayonets. Aston didn’t have time to think it over, but noticed the young lieutenant looking to him for direction. Why, Aston didn’t know, and concentrated on the matter at hand—getting to the scout ship.

Lieutenant Matthew Briar, looked at Aston with an odd frightening and tumultuous mix of emotions; hope, fear, admiration, terror, and bewilderment. The whole experience was a holovid production come to life, only it wasn’t on the screen and stakes were real. He could die. His whole unit could die. This scout, this Captain Richard Aston, could also die in the mayhem all around him.

Aston looked at Briar briefly, then risked climbing the rubble, up chunks of fractured and broken concrete with melted and snapped rebar sticking out from them, and peered over the top. Again, the troop followed suit without him asking or ordering it.

Aston reached for a flash bang, and looked for the largest collection of black armored clam-shell helmeted individuals. They were only mere meters from Aston’s Type-S. Vash couldn’t possibly hit them with the turret, they were that close.

The troop, bayonets gleaming the patchwork sunlight, watched Aston toss a flash bang. The grenade denotated with fury blinding every Zhodani trooper within a certain radius. Aston went over the top and the rest of the troop followed suit shouting and firing….
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Old March 11th, 2018, 01:52 AM
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The war had been over for what seemed like decades. His body didn’t respond like it used to. The snap reflexes he once enjoyed as a youth had left him long ago. His thin hair was a thin silver, the skin over his jowls and body drooped low with gravity, and even his joints tended to creak and hurt on occasion. And his vision, though not blurry, certainly was not as sharp as in his hay-day.

But the most damaging part of getting old was just the general atrophy in mind and body, and how his youthful exuberance of from his boyhood on Earth had been eclipsed by wear and tear.

But he had a life to live, or so believed. He wasn’t sure how to reconcile the thought of needing and desiring to live longer verse what his own personal biology was telling him. Was he trying to convince himself that even though on a subconscious physiological level he knew his time was drawing to a close, and in his own way outwit his a biological clock? It felt like a sale’s pitch to his inner psyche—a cry, a thirst, a demand for more life, and for more life to come. What was the old saying? The spirit was willing, but the body…

Days long gone. Peter the amazing post-doctorate surgeon who had become a ship’s medic for the thrill of adventuring in the Marches and the extents. Amy, the beautiful science specialist whose fields of expertise ranged from paleontology to high energy physics and more, various ship’s captains, and his long time friend, Vash. All gone. Fading memories of an era long gone.

Explosions on Efate…or was it Regina? The roar of an Aslan crowd. Sailing on a water world and facing the gaping maw of a hungry beast. A disagreeable Newt, a raving psionic lunatic who had nearly destroyed a ship, and a Geonee who knew only racing as a way of life.

If the war hadn’t gotten them, then something else had. Usually a family obligation, but ultimately time came for them all. It came for everyone.

He sat there on the park bench with eyes half closed, feeling the cold air trying to penetrate his scarf and sweater. He must have looked like a pathetic figure bent forward with both elderly hands resting on the top nob of an inexpensive wooden cane.

“One last duty to perform.” He told himself. He inhaled, and characteristically sighed. Now a knight, he didn’t feel much different from the rest of humanity. Just older, and more tired. But not so tired that he couldn’t address a grievous wrong.

He looked down at the cracked concrete sidewalk with the occasional pale brown leaf fluttering by. He remembered Captain Patterson, and his admonition to him stay close to camp and be careful. Of course it rained and he had been pushed and dragged by a debris flow that by all rights should have killed him. But he had beaten the odds.

The crystal cave with the Aslan youth who wanted to prove his manhood by confronting one of the most dangerous crystalline animals that Aston had ever encountered, and later on his baptism of fire by being dragged into the arena to fight on behalf of a maintenance male who had forsaken traditional Aslan ways for a freer existence. Of course it meant that he had no honor, but he seemed to be okay with it. Too bad he had to have the human fight for him.

Days long gone. Days when he could run up seven flights of stairs and not feel winded in the least, and still have energy, were over. But he was alive. He was here. He had something to do. A purpose. A goal. A reason for living.

And there, across the street, flanked by guards, men and droids both, in a caravan of stretched armored luxury grav vehicles. Epaulets, gold braid and other adornments trimming a bright vermillion uniform with black plants also striped with gold piping stuffed into brilliant polished black boots. A very shiny and well trimmed full beard and moustache that was no doubt conditioned just like his hair. Sharp chiseled features, a good looking and well groomed man, but not very muscular. The side arm and ceremonial saber dangling at his left hip told all.

He closed his eyes briefly. All he needed was a few more winks of sleep. Naps seemed to be the order of the day. Just a few minutes of shut eye in the once summer now cooled air. That’s all he needed right now.
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Old March 13th, 2018, 06:42 PM
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A young man whose heart had been smitten by the Duke’s niece, now lay in a hospital with enough tubes and wires keeping his being live to make an engineering medic jealous. He was not of station. A commoner in a local store that catered to the local wealthy clientele, he spent his nights stocking the store, and his days manning it. The Duke’s niece, actually a very pretty young woman, had taken to him, and of course he to her. That was their crime.

So it was that it had been forbidden by the Duke for the two to cavort with one another in such open displays of affection. But, like all young impassioned youth whose hearts are entwined, they found ample opportunities.

Noble justice was brutal for those who had little regard for life. The only thing that had saved the young store clerk was the fact that he was human, and a local. Somehow being maimed and mortally wounded was supposed to send a message to other locals not to aspire to status above their station. “Know your place” was the catch phrase many a noble tossed and casually levelled with an heir of arrogance that only added to the fire of the masses, or those local nobility often referred to as rabble.

That’s when the first few killings became clear. It was the Duke, trying to get rid of the rival without killing him outright and bringing the finger of suspicion upon himself. Local law and custom actually protected him, but Imperial law was another matter, and so he had to find cause and place blame on others, citing he had been provoked to outrage. He even went so far as to leave the murder weapon and biological evidence in the form of the victim’s blood in the store. A shoddy work at a frame up. There was absolutely no way for any of the victim’s blood to get into the store, and there was no way the young store clerk could have fired the weapon as lab tests had shown. Only a man who wanted to put others at a disadvantage could do such a thing, and the young Duke’s psychological profile fit that mold to a Tee.

He kept an eye on the gated compound across the avenue from the estate park. Cold was more bitter and had more sting now than ever it did when he was still a pilot in the service. And, strangely enough, as if the world were turned on its head, even though it felt colder, it didn’t feel as uncomfortable as it had at one time.

Night was coming on, and the small palace’s windows gradually glowed to life as twilight turned evening sky to a starry night. Guards and bots were patrolling. Sentry cameras roamed the skies a several dozen feet above the local houses. And the young Duke, as expected, forsook his personal guard to stroll through the park at night, confident that he could catch another innocent bystander, and level his full legal rights as a noble upon yet another victim.

He pressed hard on the cane and forced his creaking body from its resting place on a wrought iron bench, and bent over, one hand on his back, the other supporting the upper weight of his body by way of the cane, he moved.

He took gasps of breath at first, but soon like an antiquated locomotive his body was responding. Camera’s snapped his picture. Sentries and other security looked his way and nodded, scanned him, and chagrinned, and then moved on. But, as old as he was, as near decrepit as he had become, he could still follow the young duke.

Still on the well treaded concrete path, but on the far side of the hill, that’s when spoke.

“Stop.” His own voice was gravelly and worn, it had only a hint of the golden tones of his middle age. “Stop.”

The duke paused and half turned to look back at an elderly man, “Do you give me an order, old man?”

“I said, stop.” His elderly amble closed distance with the Duke to three meters, then stopped. Raising a boney accusing finger and hand, the tissues, fat and muscle long gone, he pointed at the duke. “I challenge you.”

The duke muted a laugh, “Be off. Find some aged gentlewoman upon which to foist your attentions.”

“No.” His voice defiantly cracked with age. “No, lord duke, you are not worthy of the title. You tried to murder a loved one. And I accuse you of unjust killing.”

The duke drew his saber, “Bold words. It’s been a long time since I’ve killed someone older than myself.”

“I would wager that age makes little to your habit of ending lives.”

“An insult. Do you wish to die slowly as well.” The duke threw away his sheath.

It wasn’t the arena, it wasn’t Efate, he wasn’t on some starship in either a turret or at the helm. He knew himself to be out of his league, but he had nothing else. All that experience, all that training, all those scars, and ultimately it was his own body that would be his failing. And yet there was nothing else in his life but to rectify something he should have done a long time ago.

He straightened himself as best as he could, his ancient body protesting that the various lubricants and well kept tissues were no longer as they were. But no matter. It was do or die, and his body knew the outcome before hand, all the same braced for its fate as well as prepared itself at the command of the mind that guided it.

Holding his cane up like a weapon he twisted his face in anger. The Duke confidently strode forward and slashed at the cane with his saber. The force of the blow twisted his body into an unstable stance, but his foot caught himself. He raised his cane again, but a backslash notched it deeply and sent him tumbling to the concrete and leaf covered grass.

The blade speared down into shoulder, though the duke was aiming for the center of his chest. The agony of razor sharp steel slicing into nerves running throughout his body, and letting what blood he had left spill from cut veins nearly paralyzed him. But he had been through worse, and it allowed him to reach for the weapon of last resort; his MK1119 machine pistol.

The weapon that had saved him so many times in the past was too late now. Nevertheless, shrouded in the dark it was essentially invisible in the dim shadows. He pulled the trigger and a flame from 20 rounds emptied in less than a second ended the duke’s life.

Alarms sounded, light poured onto the scene, drones, sentries, guards came rushing with high tech long arms and sidearms drawn, and surrounded the writhing elderly man. He color was draining.

“There he is. Too late for his lordship, but we can finish off his killer.” A young ambitious lieutenant said with an heir of disregard. Dressed in ceremonial red much like the Duke that he was assigned to protect, gold trim, he was ready to accept the responsibility for the Duke’s death, but also prepared to rise in rank as he was a distant relation. It would not mean an advancement, but it would put him closer to the dukedom.

Another set of lights poured onto the scene, and the thunder of a starship engine, several in fact, roared onto the scene. Sentry bots and surveillance drones dropped like poisoned sparrows, thumping onto the ground with a crinkly impact as they crushed dead leaves.

“Hands up. Don’t move.” The voice boomed over the loud speaker, and another set of armed individuals with the royal purple sunburst appeared on the scene, and squared off with the duke’s huscarles.

“There he is!” A team of medics and familiar faces surrounded him. They removed the saber from his near lifeless form, his eyes rolling to the back of his head, his breaths shallow, his heart beat barely registered. They attached devices to him and injected him with chemicals. But the body couldn’t withstand it, and his heart stopped.

“He’s dead.”

“So it my lord. A fit price to pay for a murder.”

No one replied, save one man. A middle aged senior administrator who had come to see the mission fulfilled. “No. No it isn’t.”

“What’re you talking about? “

“And nor will you be advancing closer to the sector’s chair.”

The lieutenant furled his brow as much as his young twenty-something forehead would allow, “What are you talking about?” Then noticing the purple color of the sunburst, “What? That’s a fake uniform! What are you trying to pull? What’s your game? I’ll have you rung up on charges, and then executed.”

The administrator look up at him with arms cross in humble doubt. “Is that a threat, lietuentnat?”

“Of course it is.”

“Well, I’ve come across some, how does one put it, uninformed individuals in my time, but to accuse a Scout enforcement group of fraud, and then threaten violence, I think that’s a new one for the books.”
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Old March 13th, 2018, 07:00 PM
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“What are you talking about?! He killed our duke! I’ve had enough!”

“I’m sure you have. A man lies dead on the ground. Dead from gun shot wounds. Trauma. Loss of blood. But it’s not murder.”

“Are you daft? He, shot, him!” The lieutenant emphasized.

“We got him back. He’s alive.” The chief medic looked up at the administrator before getting to his feet and leaving his team to care of the patient. “I’ve initialed the time of death.”

“Is he okay?” the administrator looked worried.

“Oh sure. He’s … on the mend, but …”

“But what?” The administrator was tense.

“At his age? I don’t know, sir. I mean whoever authorized this … I don’t know.”

“It was his own idea.” The administrator’s tone seemed to relieve his own stress and worry, but his reservations were all too clear.

“What, he’s alive? Little good it’ll do him when the magistrate is through with him.” The lieutenant was adamant, the cold air steaming from his mouth as the three hovering scout ships continued to cast strong shafts of light on the scene.

“I think not. Our man, our revived man, is a knight.”

“Him?!” the lieutenant exclaimed, “…of the nobility?”

The administrator levelled a cool gaze, “Your duke was killed in honorable combat. He met the challenge, and even struck the first blow. That’s why his transponder didn’t sound an alarm, because he wasn’t murdered.”

Another set of starship engines thundered onto the scene, and another set of individuals poured from the cargo ramp before it could touch the ground.

Vash was the first to his side, followed by Peter and Amy, “Get out of here!” Growled Vash as he physically pushed the medics aside. “You sure this meta-genic thingy is going to work?”

Amy shook her head, “It’s what that Ancient said…. Besides, they made you people, didn’t they?”

“Another dig at my race? That’s his department.” Vash grimly joked at the old man’s near lifeless form.

Amy stabbed him in several strategic places, tubes connected to a biological technology that mankind had only begun to tap in recent years.

“Honorable combat?! You’re mad! He’s a killer!”

“No, he’s a knight of the realm. Recently made one, and perhaps not quite the station of your departed duke, but your lord accepted the challenge, drew first, struck first, delivered a mortal blow, and died for it! Sergeant!”

“Yes sir!”

“Arrest the lot of them. Take them into custody.”

IISS special security personnel stepped forward weapons levelled. The air was tense, a standoff was imminent, but whether cowardice, the hope to fight another day, or mere cowardice over took the young lieutenant, none could say, and yet he was the first to throw down his weapon.

The elderly man cried and writhed in agony as his body convulsed and thrashed on the grav powered gurney still hanging in the single spot where it slid under his once lifeless form. More calls of pain filled the air, but then the miraculous happened. Boney hands, fingers and limbs regained new form. The skin so depleted of blood, tissue and muscle suddenly reformed and became full again. New life revived into a man a century or more old. And his companions sympathized and hoped that the treatment they had gone through would revitalize their friend.

Then the writhing stopped, followed by a man who was dressed in clothes that barely fit his form, and certainly didn’t speak about his apparent age. Mid thirties? Mid forties? In his prime nevertheless. Sword wound all but gone, interior damage mended, mind and body restored.

“How you feeling?” Vash offered.

Aston looked up, “Where did you come from?” Then bewildered, he looked at his hands and body, then at Peter and Amy. “What….wha…ohmygod, am I dead?”

“Hardly, sir Aston.” The administrator replied, “And thanks again for your help. Do you want to stay and thank your niece?”

Aston shook his head. “No. She’d never believe, and I’ve got …” he looked at Vash, Amy and Peter. “I’ve got things to do. I’m not on the Scout service payroll anymore.” Aston grinned, “But thanks all the same. I’ve got some travelling to do.”

The fourth scout ship’s engines closed once Aston and his crew were on board, then thundered to life before soaring back into the stars.
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Old May 11th, 2018, 07:50 AM
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Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I'll see if I can post something in the next few weeks. Thanks.
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Old June 25th, 2018, 06:28 PM
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Aston, Vash, Peter, Amy and Ray looked a fat bald middle aged man with a ring of hair around his crown where a thick those of dark tangles used to be in his prime. His shirt off, leaned up against the interior wall in the common area as the Florian class scout, Nebula Dawn, silently glided in the sundrenched black of interplanetary space, one side being heated by radiation, the other cooled by a lack of it, all the while the ship’s environmental and hull engineering mitigated the two.

Prince Pahlavi, they called him. He didn’t look much like a prince. Worn, three days growth of beard, few muscles, a pot belly, he was hardly the stuff of story book legends. But his picture and profile of him in his prime told a different story. At one time he had shown a lot of promise. At one time he was to be showcased as the son of a monarch of a kingdom long since gone. But someone thought they could control his thoughts with a combination of psioncs, anti-psychotic drugs, the most brutal forms of psychiatry, and just downright intimidation and brutality.

A lot of parties had a lot invested in him, but, as the saying goes, “too many chefs…” The Imperium wanted him as a lazy king that would by sympathetic to the Imperium, and thereby gaining docking rights for the Imperial navy and merchants, as well as a the huge mineral and other raw material’s wealth of an interstellar state that was on the wane and in turmoil. The Aslan, Solomani and a host of small independent states all wanted pretty much the same thing; a head of state sympathetic to them, and either beholden to them or, at the very least, swayable and otherwise amenable to their requests.

Pahlavi had fought his hardest to overcome the Zho-psi talents employed, and the vicious guards from both Terran and Aslan space that had orbited his existence wherever he went. One party even employed a minor princess of some other house to try and win him over for the sake of producing a prodigy that would forever bring him into their political grasp. They let the princess have access to all the psychiatric tools at her disposal to sway him to her, and even to entice his dreams of creating media.

But the truth is he had fallen in love with another woman decades before. Though gone he still pined for her on a certain level, and where she was gone and the Prince knew that forever more, this other woman, this princess, disgusted him to the core. She made him sick. Everything wrong with the opposite sex, she embodied. From her stocky and hippy body form, to her willingness to try and turn his heart and mind from that which he had chosen long before he had been brutalized by the likes of modern neural science.

And that’s where Peter and Amy had come in. Amy had some latent psi power, and Peter was the emperor’s own surgeon at one time, who had asked to be excused of his duties to join his friend on the frontier in the Marches. Flashbang grenades, a few well placed tran rounds from a Kaylon make snub, the best used by the emperor’s own, some charges to blast the cell door open, and they had found him all wired up and with a dozen tubes inserted into veins, nostrils, mouth, the base of his skull where it met his spinal column, and a few other places.

This was a man who, according to his dossier, had confronted gangs, saved a few women, had been trained by the Imperial secret police in a variety of martial arts, and had been hidden away as a commoner with a fabricated background. He was that important.

But like all important things, everyone wanted him for their own purposes. The prince coughed, his belly fat jiggled over the crest of his jeans. He rubbed his face and accepted a cup of water from Amy.

Aston looked at him. Unsure of what to think. Could anyone survive such an ordeal? He hadn’t been physically beaten, but brutalized beyond measure. Yet here he was, able to answer questions bout his experience, but otherwise just too exhausted to say much.

Someone thought he had been kidnapped by an occult. Some tried to deprogram him of his fandom of old holovids. Others thought he was hiding some deep criminal secret, and staged visual theatre to get the prince to regurgitate whatever he was hiding. Sill, others thought had been abused. Well, not until he went through this ordeal, but perhaps his kidnapping was the fact that he had realized what was going on, and rebelled.

“Amy, Peter, Vash, take care of him. I’ll jump us out as soon as we reach distance.” Aston’s jaw hardened as he saw the dilapidated would be monarch continue to rest like a misused zoo animal. Aston was convinced that medicine of the mind had to be done through neural network analysis. Anything else was sheer sadistic torture. If had the time he would have taken the man to Tarsus for a leave of absence. As it stood now a well populated area like Regina, a place with lots of navy, lots of army, marines and yes, even Scouts and law enforcement would be most app. Most app indeed.

The one-hundred ton arrowhead glowed an ethereal light blue, then vanished to a point of black among a sea of stars.
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